Baba Umar from Srinagar

From Tehelka: “Screams from Kashmir

“THE WIKILEAKS exposé of the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) telling US diplomats in 2005 about “torture of civilians” in Kashmiri jails comes at a time when Union Home Minister P Chidambaram says a proposal to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is being studied and the next few months will bring the “contours of a political solution” to the Kashmir problem.

Although the Centre has long been denying torture in Kashmir, separatists say the leaks vindicated complaints about “rampant torture” in Kashmir’s jails even as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah further offended coalition partner Congress by saying the leaks pertain to the year 2005 when the Congress and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ruled jointly. However, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti was quick to rebut Abdullah’s remarks, saying, “The PDP government inherited a tormented legacy. If WikiLeaks looks into the abuses during the NC regime, there will be horror stories.”

One such story is that of Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, 40, who is still haunted by memories of the single tungsten light bulb that hung from the cell ceiling and the heavy bamboo stick that repeatedly hit him. And behind the tattered blanket, an army officer, known to locals as Major Maltani, sipping tea and saying, “You will break soon.”

Picked up from a narrow path through a snow-bound orchard in December 1994, the newly-wed farmer of Yehama in north Kashmir’s Handwara district had no militancy or criminal record. Yet his left hand was pushed into a charcoal oven, his legs rolled over with a steel rod — standard torture to get youths to ‘confess’: “I’m a militant and have a gun to surrender.”

Sheikh didn’t just lose four fingers and both legs due to botched treatment. He also lost a precious piece of ancestral paddy land that he sold to buy artificial limbs. And then, “my wife Halima divorced me a year later for being handicapped,” Sheikh told TEHELKA. His brother-in-law Muhammad Ramzaan, a daily wager, took over the responsibility of looking after the family.

Sheikh had pinned his hopes on the case (FIR 54/95 under Section 325, Ranbir Penal Code) registered at Sanzipora, Handwara, on 12 April 1995 against the 14 Dogra Regiment. But it was closed in the usual way, by declaring the accused “untraceable”….

According to the leaks, ICRC told the American diplomats about 300 detention centres till 2000 and failure in gaining access to the ‘Cargo Building’, the most notorious detention centre, in Srinagar city.

Muhammad Yasin Malik (not the JKLF leader), is one such person who was subjected to all three forms of torture in the spring of 1994. Malik of Zandfaran, Baramullah in North Kashmir, was on his way to the capital to submit his admission form in KITE Polytechnic, Srinagar. However, in the city’s Batamaloo, armymen mistook him for the JKLF leader and immediately dragged him into a nearby army camp.

‘Kashmir is a big jail,’ says MLA Engineer Rashid [from Handwara]. ‘But that doesn’t mean we stop seeking our rights’

“During the initial days, I was beaten up with sticks and kicked with jackboots,” Malik recalls. For 15 days, Malik was tortured at the notorious Papa 1 and Papa 2 interrogation centres, both tucked under the foothills of Zabarwan Mountains overlooking the picturesque Dal Lake.

“One morning, they (troops) inserted a thin rod into my penis. I fainted when they passed electricity through it,” he recalls. “After my lunch, they would often waterboard me. I would simply vomit it all out.”…


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